Why Americans Choose Between the Lesser of Two Evils

In early July, the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing states to punish so-called faithless electors. But the reason behind the ruling reveals one major inadequacy of the American election system.

Voting in America seems simple: you go to the polling station (or not), fill out your ballot, and submit it. Done. Your vote is counted, and you can go home to watch the results come in.

With presidential elections, though, that isn’t the case.

Your vote actually goes to a set of electors who then represent your state’s winner in the Electoral College; the one who comes out on top wins the presidency. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Although an elector is theoretically pledged to a certain candidate, he or she can choose to vote for another candidate and become a “faithless” elector. The question, then, is this: why would an elector want to vote for any other candidate?

Politics Has Gotten Nastier

Have you realized that today’s politics has turned more to what we don’t want rather than what we do? One Pew Research study found that the main reason voters in the 2016 election chose a candidate wasn’t any specific policy. It was the fact that one candidate wasn’t the other.

And the rhetoric of today’s elections doesn’t help either. This was the Republican nominee in 1996:

“This is not the outlook of my opponent — and he is my opponent, not my enemy” — Bob Dole

And these were the enemies Hillary Clinton named in 2015:

“Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians. Probably the Republicans” — Hillary Clinton

The characterization of fellow Americans as the enemy doesn’t bridge the divide. It widens it, causing the elections we see today. And for those in the center, it’s what pushes them away from both sides.

The Party System

It seems impossible to imagine America without the two political parties: every election cycle, it seems to define us more and more. But this was one of the most significant issues of the Constitutional Convention, and many questioned partisanship throughout George Washington’s presidency. Take a look at what Washington himself said in his farewell address:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another … is itself a frightful despotism” — George Washington

And think about it. Isn’t this what’s happening every couple election terms?

Political polarization has shifted over the decades.

For three terms, we had Reagan and Bush. Then, we had two terms of Clinton. Then, two terms of Bush. Then, two terms of Obama. Now, one (or two) terms of Trump.

This is the “frightful despotism” Washington was talking about.

And consider this: in 2016, there were ten faithless electors from Texas, Washington, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, and Colorado. That’s the most since 1896.

Part of the problem is that we only have two legitimate choices. The last time a third-party candidate garnered more than a quarter of the popular votes was the election of 1912. And that was Teddy Roosevelt.

According to another Pew Research study published in December, party affiliation is the main factor in political views. Across thirty political values, those from different parties differed by nearly forty percentage points.

Democrats vote for Democrats, and Republicans vote for Republicans.

The problem is, though, there’s no space for those in between. Take this election, for example: in the end, there are the two nominees, Biden and Trump. Let’s say you’re a pro-life climate change activist. Who do you support?

Ranked-Choice Voting

American elections are truly winner takes all. For the narrowest races, those that come down to less that 0.5%, there’s no prize for the loser.

Ranked-Choice Voting is the system many have proposed as a fairer and better alternative to the Electoral College. Rather than choosing between two major candidates, voters have to rank the candidates, including those not from the two largest parties.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

To the contrary, this system forces voters to consider all of their options, rather than the ones who seem to stand a chance. If a voter’s first choice doesn’t make it, their vote can still count for their second or third choice. And this idea’s picking up steam.

In a referendum in the State of Maine, fifty-two percent of voters supported the use of ranked-choice voting in all subsequent elections. Despite challenges from the GOP, ranked-choice voting will be in place by this November’s election, and it’ll be the first time it’s used in the United States.

It’s the first step of many to truly ensure that the people’s choice is in office.

The Supreme Court Ruling

The way I see it, the reason this ruling comes now is because of the consequential nature of today’s elections.

This year, only a minority of voters believe that either candidate will have a positive impact in the Oval Office. What exactly does this mean? Electors would be less likely to vote for their pledged candidate.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling, however, makes one thing clear: “faithless” electors won’t be affecting elections any time soon. Their ruling states that Article II of the constitution makes sure that the state ultimately has the authority to punish electors however they may see fit.

But one thing must be noted: elections in America aren’t serving the majority. The fact that “faithless” electors are a problem in the United States just exacerbates the fact that those in office don’t represent the majority.

And going back to what the first president said, America was founded on the ideal of the people’s representation. The person in the Oval Office must represent that.

Teen writer. Plain and simple.

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